Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. This is your host, Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 69 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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If you are new to the podcast, please check out our intro the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. As we normally do for our podcast episodes, we will do a drama episode recap and then talk about culture and or history referenced in the drama and finally end with some book differences.
We are nearing the finish line with our drama with just 5 episodes left! I thought rather hard about how best to recap this episode because ultimately, the short of it is that the Empress Dowager gathered all of the enemies in Gu Ting Ye’s life to lie about what he’s done in order to bring him down. Issue is that there’s not a great stopping point for this episode and the next so we will discuss this episode on its own.
In episode 68, the Empress Dowager had gathered a rather impressive retinue of people intent on bringing down Gu Ting Ye and in this episode, we see the plans come to fruition. This episode is rather straightforward but I will point out a few things you may not have been paying attention to. And then move on to history and book differences.
Who’s currently in the Empress’s camp? We have Madame Qin, Gu Ting Ye’s step-mother, Grandma Wang, Madame Wang and Aunt Kang’s mother, Concubine Liu, a concubine of the Emperor whose son is now under the care of the Empress Dowager, and Bai Da Lang, Gu Ting Ye’s cousin on his mom’s side who is solely focused on inheriting the Bai family wealth.
The episode begins with Gu Ting Ye meeting with his good friend Prince Huan at a brothel to tell him about what issues might come up in the future. Gu Ting Ye bluntly tells Prince Huan he was the one to kill Aunt Kang but it was warranted. The Prince tells him off for his rash actions and storms off. As soon as he leaves, we see a woman entering the rooms. This is not fully explained but that is 卫行首，the prostitute that is good friends with Gu Ting Ye. Take a close look at his reaction to hearing her come into the room. He glances back towards her and then forward again to follow the gaze of where the Prince left with a knowing look in his eyes. It is important to keep this in mind because why on earth would Gu TIng Ye specifically pick this brothel to meet the Prince for this chat? It is most definitely a choice.
Elsewhere, the Gu family 4th uncle and aunt have decided to recontinue their alliance with Madame Qin while the 5th uncle and aunt leaned the other way and is supporting Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye. Originally the 4th uncle and aunt didn’t want to side with Madame Qin but it turns out, their son who was exiled committed yet another crime while out there. Face palm. The 4th uncle and aunt think that if they work with Madame Qin, they are able to bring back their son. I highly doubt that will happen because he clearly committed multiple crimes but that’s what their parents think can be done. Madame Qin is very happy to leverage that level of hope for their own purposes. In the conversation with the 4th uncle and aunt though, Madame Qin was quite blatantly cleaning ceramics gifted by the empress dowager as a way to flaunt her connection to this powerful woman. The 4th uncle and aunt did not miss this connection.
And now, with the pieces all gathered, it’s time for the show to start. One morning at court, we hear a drum being beaten by none other than Grandma Wang. She has removed expensive outwear and is in rather simple garb. The drum she beats is called 登闻鼓 which we will talk about later. With the sound of those beats, she and her son are summoned to the main hall. In front of the entire court, she accuses Gu Ti ng Ye of killing her daughter and asks that the Emperor help her seek justice.
Evidently she is prepared because she also requests to summon her witnesses which include Madame Qin, the 4th uncle and Aunt Kang’s son. Gu Ting Ye, though, actually smirks when he sees them. He knows there’s going to be great theater on display at this point and is willing to play along with them.
Grandma Wang is upset that Gu Ting Ye killed her daughter and I do not believe she thinks her daughter is entirely not at fault. But, because the person who died is her daughter, she is going to seek justice any w ay she can. And that includes lying in front of the entire court about what truly happened the night she died. The story she paints is that Aunt Kang was there to help Ming Lan in the flames but was ruthlessly killed by Gu Ting Ye for no reason other than being a bloodthirsty killer. Madame Qin also pipes in that the flames were set by Gu Ting Ye into her son’s rooms that then migrated over to his residence. Honestly, there are plenty of holes in their story. Like why would a random relative run over to help put the flames out? Who was the one to bring her into the property etc etc. But the key point that Grandma Wang is banking on holding this story together is the fact that Gu Ting Ye will not publicly share why Aunt Kang wants to kill Ming Lan.
Why not? It’s because if he shares the truth about Aunt Kang’s actions in the Sheng family, the Sheng family would be ruined. Chang Bai, Ming Lan’s brother, actually wanted to step in to share the truth but both his father, Sheng Hong, and Gu TIng Ye cut him off before he could share any more. Without this crucial piece of the story, people are led to believe that Aunt Kang had no reason to harm Ming Lan.
After this back and forth, the Emperor demands that the Judiciary take on this case and investigate the truth.
Outside, Chang Bai demands to know why GU Ting Ye prevented him from speaking earlier and all Gu Ting Ye could do is to knock him unconscious and tells Sheng Hong to lock him up. That way, he won’t jeopardize the Sheng family any further. At night, Gu Ting Ye has a heartfelt conversation with Ming Lan about the current environment. The husband and wife pair both apologize for causing the other such trouble with their ill-intended relatives. Each believes they are the ones at fault for creating such a negative environment with threats coming all the way down from the imperial family themselves. But now, Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan are finally a team.
Aunt Kang’s case continues to drag on with the investigation reaching a standstill. Both sides cannot conclusively confirm or deny the motivations of both Aunt Kang and Gu Ting Ye. The Emperor has many meetings with various people who recount the details of the case or else try to persuade him from forgiving Gu Ting Ye. What is important is that in every single meeting, his head eunuch is standing watch next to the emperor. We don’t see the eunuch’s facial expressions closely, but it is important that he is there, listening to every conversation the Emperor has. And the Emperor is becoming increasingly impatient as more details of Gu Ting Ye’s actions are exposed.
The case further escalates now with the entire court watching intently for what will happen to Gu Ting Ye. Qi Heng, who is now over his affections for Ming Lan, steps over to Gu Ting Ye and basically states he’s going to be on his side. It’s a brief scene but I appreciate that Qi Heng has come to his senses to now help Gu Ting Ye. Unfortunately, the Empress Dowager has gathered the individuals that would create a hard hitting blow to GU Ting Ye. On this new day at court, Grandma Wang’s side including Madame Qin bring forth new accusations to slander Gu Ting Ye’s character. They bring up Bai Da Lang and none other than Zhu Man Niang, Gu Ting Ye’s former fling. *Sigh. It was painful listening to her screeches again to do this episode recap haha. I normally just skip past this. All these people lie through their teeth as to what Gu Ting Ye has done to them. Bai Da Lang accuses Gu Ting Ye of stealing the Bai family inheritance while Zhu Man Niang screeches that it was Gu Ting Ye that killed his son and paints Gu Ting Ye as a monster. It does not look good for Gu Ting Ye.
On Ming Lan’s side, Chang Mo Mo, Gu TIng Ye’s wet nurse and current caretaker of Ming Lan’s son discovered that someone has been poisoning Ming Lan’s medicine. It’s a slow poison but will cause her to slowly start losing her mind and eventually die. Hmmmm where have we seen this tactic before? Haha not in this drama but most certainly in others like Empresses in the Palace. This comes as a shock to Ming Lan for sure but she remains rather calm. She understands that she shouldn’t cause a fuss for now in case that scares the perpetrator off. Instead, they should investigate in secret who exactly is trying to kill her because it would provide some leads to who is trying to harm Gu Ting Ye.
We leave the episode with Ming Lan also returning to the Sheng family to stay for a while. Grandma Sheng is of course happy to have her back and Ming Lan is under the impression that Gu TIng Ye will be joining her shortly. Little does she know that he is in a world of trouble now.
Ok – first up, we’re going to discuss a bit on post birth customs in China. The literal translation means sitting for a month. The first records of this date back over 2000 years ago and is mentioned in the Book of Rites. Basically there’s a lot of local customs and practices that are supposed to support and aid a woman after childbirth. This includes, as mentioned in the last episode, not washing ones hair, avoid eating cold things, reducing physical labor etc. Many of these customs extend to today so the term is still quite common.
诰命服 – we will briefly touch up on the 诰命服 today which is the formal dress that both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin wear when they appear at court. Both of them have a 诰命 which is an official title. Both were gifted this title because of the status their late husband’s have. You’ll notice that both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin’s outfits are darker in color but nevertheless extravagant. They fit the status of their rank. By wearing these clothes at court, they are displaying their status and informing the rest of court that they are not to be trifled with. We won’t discuss too much on the outfits today because Ming Lan will wear one in the next few episodes. We will discuss the outfits at length then.
We have the 登闻鼓 or the emergency drum. The purpose of the drum is to allow common people to raise any emergency cases or raise to the local magistrate’s attention if there were any wrongful convictions. Drums were set up all the way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago and was referenced in 周礼 or the Rites of Zhou which first appeared in the middle of the 2nd century BC. There are references of drums being used even earlier than that. The drum with the name 登闻鼓 was first referenced in the Book of Jin or 晋书 – which was published in the Tang Dynasty of 648AD. The book recounted the history of the the Jin Dynasty which ruled from 266 – 420AD.
Throughout the course of the dynasties, the importance of the drums also varied. Before the Song dynasty, regular folk could beat the drums and the case or suggestions would be presented to court. Of course, where the drums were beat also dictated its importance but nonetheless, people took notice when someone beat the drums.
During the Song dynasty, stricter rules were set. 3 departments were created to handle these cases. There were 3 major cases that warranted someone to beat the drums. The first was if an imperial entrance test taker accused bribery or favoritism of the examiners. There were specific cases in 973 in which a test taker accused the examiner of taking bribes. The case was reopened by the emperor. The next type of case is if someone presents evidence of bribery or corruption. The last is of course if someone presents evidence of a wrongful conviction.
The drums were used throughout history and it’s cool to see that it is used here in the drama. By the Qing dynasty, so 17th-20th century, the drums were rarely used. There was also a rule that was implemented in which if someone dared or decided to beat the drums, they would first be caned or beated with 30 strokes. The goal of that was to make it so that whatever issue was raised was worth those beatings.
观火台 or 望火楼 – fire watchtower
During the Song Dynasty, there was already a pretty robust firefighting system. In the famous portrait 清明上河图 or Along the River During the Qing Ming Festival, you’ll clearly see a fire watchtower in the painting. The painting, by 张择端 , and completed in the late 11th century is one of the most famous chinese paintings ever painted. It depicted the qing ming festival and is praised for its depictions of the city during that time period. As mentioned during the episode, not only was there a fire watchtower, there were also dedicated firefighters to combat fires in case of emergency. According to Song Dynasty records, for the major city streets, a fire station was set up every 300 meters. Firefighters were prepped and ready to fight the fires on seconds notice, very similar to what we have now.
Pretty cool right!
Ok – let’s discuss book differences. Nice and easy – almost everything in this episode deviates from the book. The Wang family do not go to court, nor does Madame Qin. 曼娘 is also not in the picture in the book.
Personally – i don’t particularly like the direction the drama went in the last couple of episodes but I understand why they did it. They had to close several loose strands or else if they followed the book, we could have easily gotten like 30 more episodes. Not that I’m complaining!
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